What Is Hair Loss?
Table of Contents
- What Is Hair Loss?
- What Causes Hair Loss?
- Links Between Alcohol and Hair Loss
- Hair Loss Due to Alcoholism
- Impact of Alcohol on the Endocrine System
- Alcohol, Poor Nutrition, and Hair Loss
- Relationship Between Smoking, Drinking, and Hair Loss
- Relationship Between Stress and Hair Loss
- What Happens to Neglected Hair?
- Can You Reverse Hair Loss From Drinking?
- Medical Treatments For Hair Loss
- Recovery From Drinking and Hair Regrowth
- Finding the Right Treatment for You
- Medically Reviewed By
Hair loss (alopecia) can occur anywhere on your body (although it is generally more noticeable on the scalp), and can be temporary or permanent. On average, humans lose around 50 to 100 hairs a day.
While this may seem like a lot, new hair is constantly being grown to replace these lost strands. If an individual is experiencing the loss of more than the average 50-100 hairs a day, they may want to speak to their doctor about what could be causing this.
What Causes Hair Loss?
There are several factors that can make an individual more prone to hair loss, including age, hormonal changes, and certain medical conditions (such as thyroid disorders).
While anyone can experience hair loss, it is more common amongst men, as seen in a condition called male pattern baldness. Furthermore, heredity can play a significant role in hair health, in which some individuals may just be genetically predisposed to developing hair loss.
Less Common Causes of Hair Loss
While hair loss can usually be attributed to one of the aforementioned causes, other factors can sometimes play a role in this condition. Along with various other negative health effects, malnutrition, increased stress levels, and unhealthy lifestyle patterns can all lead to hair loss as well.
One of the biggest areas of concern currently regarding this condition, however, is whether there is a connection between the use of alcohol and hair loss.
Links Between Alcohol and Hair Loss
While alcohol has not been directly linked as a cause for hair loss, drinking excessively can lead to other health issues that can harm hair health.
Furthermore, combining heavy alcohol use with other substances may also put an individual at a higher risk of developing certain health issues, including hair loss. While there is slim evidence linking alcohol and hair loss together, illicit drug usage and abuse has been found to cause this condition in some individuals.
Hair Loss Due to Alcoholism
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to hormonal changes and nutritional deficiencies, which will, in turn, cause hair loss.
These drinking patterns can also cause the development or worsening of mental health issues, as well as increase the intensity of side effects caused by other poor lifestyle factors (smoking, for example) on hair health. This is typically due to damage caused to or interference with the natural hair growth cycle.
Natural Hair Growth Cycle
This is the cycle during which new hair forms, grows, and is shed. It is made up of three stages: the anagen phase, the catagen phase, and the telogen phase.
Stages of the Hair Growth Cycle
- Anagen Phase. This is the phase in which new growth takes place, with new hair shafts forming in the hair follicles.
- Catagen Phase. During this phase, hair follicles start to shrink and growth slows down; eventually the hair will separate from the follicle, but continue growing.
- Telogen Phase. This is considered the ‘resting phase’ of the growth cycle, in which the hair follicles are fully at rest and the hairs are completely formed.
Hair shedding takes place during the telogen phase of this cycle. A condition called telogen effluvium occurs when the growth cycle is prematurely shifted into its resting phase.
Impact of Alcohol on the Endocrine System
The endocrine system is vital in maintaining communication between the bodily systems, in order to maintain a constant, stable internal environment within the body (a condition known as homeostasis). This is done through the system’s production and secretion of hormones via blood circulation.
Almost every organ in the body is affected by the endocrine system. It controls the body’s metabolism, energy levels, growth, development, and reproduction, and electrolyte balance.
For individuals struggling with alcohol abuse, it is not uncommon for their thyroid or overall hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis to be affected by their drinking patterns. This can lead to hair loss or the impairing of healthy hair growth over extended periods of time, due to hormonal imbalances this interference can cause.
Thyroid Levels and Hair Loss
Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to the development of hypo- and hyperthyroidism, which can cause hair loss and hair thinning. This loss can happen suddenly, or it can happen over a series of several months.
For individuals with this condition, their previously healthy scalp may appear patchy, with diffused areas of baldness across their head.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Thyroid Disorders
Some studies have shown that alcohol withdrawal can lead to the development of thyroid disorders. This is likely due to extensive damage caused by chronic drinking to the thyroid gland, which is then aggravated by the discontinuance of this alcohol consumption.
Estrogen Levels and Hair Loss
While estrogen may help women achieve healthier hair, when it comes to men, this appears to be the exact opposite. For men who frequently participate in heavy drinking, they may experience an increase in their estrogen levels that can cause problems with their ability to grow new, healthy hair. They may also become prone to an increased risk of hair thinning and shedding.
Alcohol, Poor Nutrition, and Hair Loss
Regularly drinking alcohol in excessive quantities can lead to the development of a nutritional deficiency (or deficiencies). Because the human body requires a specific level of nutrition to be able to function properly, a lack-there-of will result in hair loss.
Alcohol use inhibits the body from breaking down food and conducting proper nutrient absorption, which in turn impairs healthy functioning of bodily systems; including those which directly impact the hair cycle.
Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies caused by heavy alcohol use include:
- Vitamin B-12.
- Folic Acid.
- Vitamin A, C, D, E, and K.
Alcohol abuse and poor absorption of proper nutrients can also cause malnutrition and dehydration, of which hair loss is only a minor symptom in comparison to the various other severe consequences these issues have on an individual’s overall health.
For individuals who struggle with a drinking problem, it is not uncommon for them to experience a decrease in their appetite.
Because alcohol contains calories, large quantities of this substance can convince a person’s body that it has met its caloric intake requirement. However, these are what are referred to as “empty calories,” or ones that contain none of the vital nutrients needed for the body’s ability to function properly.
Alcohol also has a toxic effect on the gastrointestinal tract, which can increase the risk of poor nutrition, inflammation, and a weakened digestive system. Many heavy drinkers will likely experience some sort of liver damage, including swelling and inflammation.
When the body lacks proper protein or other nutrients due to a poor diet, these nutritional deficiencies will likely cause hair loss over time, resulting from the disruption this causes to the body.
When it comes to people with binge drinking habits, this can lead to extreme dehydration. This, in turn, will cause hair follicles to dry out, eventually causing hair thinning if this drinking pattern is continued.
Furthermore, dehydration can lead to increased levels of acid production within the body, which will only worsen damage caused to the hair.
Relationship Between Smoking, Drinking, and Hair Loss
For some individuals, their excessive drinking leads to participation in other poor habits, including smoking. Smoking cigarettes has been linked to various health issues, including visible signs of premature aging and deterioration in skin and hair health.
This is primarily due to the nicotine and various other chemicals used in cigarettes, which can narrow blood vessels in the body and impair blood flow. This causes the skin to be unable to receive necessary oxygen and nutrients, which in turn can cause dry skin and damage to a previously healthy head.
Furthermore, nicotine can have a negative impact on collagen and elastin, which can further keep hair from growing. Smoke also has an effect on hair, particularly through its damaging of the follicles.
Thus, combining regular heavy alcohol consumption with the use of cigarettes can increase an individual’s likelihood to experience premature hair loss.
Relationship Between Stress and Hair Loss
For many individuals, drinking alcohol may be their way of self-medicating when it comes to stress or other negative and uncomfortable feelings. While this may be helpful at first, over time it can lead to a decreased ability to cope with stress, and even a drastic worsening of this feeling.
Stress induced hair loss is more common than most people might suspect. There are three types of this loss that can be caused by stress, including:
- Telogen Effluvium. This occurs when extreme amounts of stress push a significant number of hair follicles into the resting phase of the growth cycle prematurely.
- Trichotillomania. This occurs when an individual experiences an intense desire to pull out hair from their scalp, eyebrows, or other parts of their body, usually as a coping mechanism for negative and/or uncomfortable feelings (including stress).
- Alopecia areata. There are a number of factors associated with this condition, including severe stress levels. It is characterized by the attack of hair follicles by the body’s immune system, ultimately leading to hair loss.
Poor Sleep Quality
Poor sleeping patterns can both be a cause and an effect of increased stress levels. For individuals who regularly drink too much alcohol and have formed a dependency on this substance, they may experience regular disruptions to their sleeping patterns.
As the quality of the rest they are receiving deteriorates, the severity of their stress levels and chronic drinking will likely increase. Thus, alcohol consumption in combination with bad sleep and high levels of stress can all lead to aggravated hair loss.
Blood Sugar Spikes
Stress hormones, such as cortisol, can also increase an individual’s blood pressure and heart rate, as well as cause blood sugar spikes. These spikes, when persistent over extended periods of time, can cause damage to various tissues, organs, and blood vessels in the body.
When blood vessels are damaged, blood flow throughout the body is disrupted. This keeps necessary oxygen and nutrients from being delivered to cells, which can damage hair follicles and prevent proper growth.
What Happens to Neglected Hair?
Extensive abuse of alcohol makes many individuals more prone to developing co-occurring mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. Particularly for individuals struggling with depression, this can often lead to a pattern of poor lifestyle choices that can further increase their likelihood of experiencing alcohol related hair loss.
This may manifest in an increasing level of difficulty experienced with carrying out basic self-care habits, such as washing and brushing their hair. This will lead to an eventual breakdown in the health of their hair, which can cause thinning hair, breakage and, of course, hair loss.
Can You Reverse Hair Loss From Drinking?
Fortunately, because alcohol and hair loss are not directly linked to one another, reversing this process is absolutely possible. When treating hair loss as a side effect of alcohol abuse, some helpful steps will include:
- Decreasing or completely stopping alcohol intake
- Maintaining a balanced diet
- Taking nutritional or dietary supplements
Medical Treatments For Hair Loss
There are several treatments typically used to help manage hair loss (from alcohol use or otherwise) today, including:
- Medications designed to treat forms of pattern baldness (i.e. Minoxidil (Rogaine), Finasteride (Propecia), etc.).
- Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), which can help stimulate cellular regeneration and production in the scalp.
Recovery From Drinking and Hair Regrowth
When it comes to alcohol and hair loss, the first step in an individual’s recovery will include cutting alcohol out of their diet. However, it can be dangerous (and in some cases, fatal) for someone with an alcohol use disorder to suddenly stop drinking altogether.
In cases of alcohol related hair loss, it is strongly recommended that individuals seek out professional medical advice on how to do so in order to avoid possibly causing further harm.
Medical Detox Process
For individuals who struggle with drinking alcohol in consistently excessive patterns, suddenly stopping or limiting this behavior can result in the development of withdrawal symptoms. These can range in severity based on how dependent the individual has become upon alcohol, and may even be fatal in extreme situations.
Some of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anxiety, depression, insomnia, or other difficulties with sleeping
- Shaking, sweating, chills, body aches
- Hallucinations, delirium tremens
- Rapid, random changes in blood pressure and heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
For individuals struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder, it is likely that they will be advised by a health professional to undergo a medical detoxification process.
This process involves an individual’s receiving of constant medical supervision as their body adjusts to gradually decreased access to alcohol, in order to prevent or manage any withdrawal symptoms that may arise.
The individual will likely be given a strict, personalized diet, as well as medications that can help combat any negative side effects they may experience during this treatment process. To find more information on the medical detox process, click here.
Lifestyle and Diet Changes
Making lifestyle and diet changes are also relatively simple ways to promote healthy hair growth. These changes can include:
- Maintaining a Balanced Diet
- Staying Hydrated
- Taking Nutritional Supplements
- Stress Reduction
When it comes to individuals recovering from heavy drinking habits, improving their dietary patterns and reducing stress factors in their life will be particularly important in their hair loss recovery journey.
Foods That Promote Hair Growth
In exchange for the empty calories obtained from alcoholic beverages, foods that will not only be better for an individual’s dietary intake and overall health, but will also help promote hair production include:
- Foods rich in healthy fats (particularly omega-3 fatty acids), such as salmon, mackerel, or avocado.
- Foods rich in vitamins (i.e. vitamin C and vitamin D) which promote collagen production, including fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.
- Foods packed with protein, including chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, etc.
Finding ways to reduce stress factors in an individual’s everyday life can be significantly beneficial to their hair loss recovery. Some simple stress reduction techniques may include:
- Seeking out therapy or counseling
- Support groups
- Spending time with friends and family
Finding the Right Treatment for You
Addiction can be extremely difficult and isolating, and dealing with hair loss as a result of this can only make this experience even harder. That is why our team at Find Addiction Rehabs is dedicated to finding you or your loved one the help you need.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction and are ready to start on your path to a sober life, call us today. You don’t have to do this alone. Let us help you take the first step on a path to a better, healthier life, for both you and your hair!
Nicole Rogers is an experienced and accomplished writer with special interests in the fields of Anthropology, English, and behavioral health, and has written countless articles for newspaper publications, institutional research journals, and Find Addiction Rehabs.
Her alma mater is Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Nicole hopes to spread awareness of and combat the stigmatization surrounding addiction and substance abuse treatment through her writing and work in the field.